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On Friday, March 4th, Connecticut police finally arrested the infamous “East Coast Rapist.” Now known as 39-year old unemployed truck driver Aaron H. Thomas, the Washington Post and CBS News reported not only Thomas’ arrest, but the police officers collective astonishment concerning this serial rapists’ demeanor and physical appearance. Apparently building up in their minds perhaps an overwhelming and powerful body inspired by the sketch-artist image of their wanted man, the only type of assailant who could allude their investigation since 1999 and over-power at least 12 women, the Post article and the video released by the Associated Press emphasized that the officers found Thomas surprisingly “weak.”
So what of this rapist—this man who defies the alleged stereotyping imposed by police and prosecutors of the sexual predator, but instead fits more into descriptions of the “classic” serial killer—unassuming, understated, and white? Wait… no… Not white. But still, he is small (5′ 6″ or so), only 175 pounds, and, thus, could only have succeeded through the use of a weapon. He did carry a weapon, they reassured reporters.
The material reality of Thomas, the reportedly soft-spoken man who only asked arresting offers “Why haven’t you picked me up sooner?” was not the monster they expected to find. Why should I be surprised that Thomas did not fulfill the police’s expectations? When do our monsters emerge in predictable forms? Moreover, how frequently do they lay in wait, hunt and violate us in the ways Thomas preyed upon the many girls and women he victimized, all the while just waiting for the police to come and stop him?
No, the monsters we more often face sneak through misread. Their violations cannot be readily identified, because their actions have yet earned criminal language, or we are blamed for having answered their door knocking and window tapping with a smile. And thus, they and their crimes remain unspoken. We unwittingly invited them into our lives, with their allure and their false innocence—pretense that temps lowered defenses and increased trust.
We ask them into our homes, to see where we sleep, cry, eat, and to judge how we live our lives. We share our work environments, the importance of our values, our world views. We ask them to help us, not knowing that their outstretched hands mean to strike, not clasp and lift. We request their presences. We vote them in.
Yes, that is what I said.
Hortense Spillers’ reaction to the “vote” in Madison on Wednesday, obliterating state citizens’ rights to collectively bargain, mirrors my own. Furious, yes; and yet I grow less surprised with each step away that this country, as a whole, takes from the structures, checks and balances that hold accountable elected officials and the institutions sanctioned by us to act on our behalves. We continually invite so much of this in. At the very least, and as a nation and through action, we do not identify the threat, harm nor the danger-makers.
Recently, we, as a collective, reelected a man who finished his regime term as the least popular president in our country’s history. We, as a collective, believed the myths that would lead us self-righteously and arrogantly into a war in the Middle East longer than that of World War II. Together, we entertain the seriousness of Sarah Palin (period) and keep Fox in business. Watching our government bailout large business as a regular practice, we grumble but do relatively little. Recent legislative debates (here, here, and here) splay at least women (again!) on pyres and altars to the resentful, the strictly self-centered and the nihilistic.
So now what? Wisconsin is under internal and justifiable fire. The capital opened late, yesterday, only after police bodily removed protesters from the building. And yet, when we scoff at slanted journalism through some networks, an NBC reporter from the Madison affiliate station called the protests which held Wisconsin Republicans at bay, early yesterday morning, simply “noise.” The capital of the state has exploded and the local news suggests citizen protest efforts remain as ineffectual as, now, those absent Democrats. (Those Democrats called “runaways,” not political actors, protesters or ground-standing.) The voices of the people quashed by the votes of their representatives. How can I be surprised when the nature of the bill is silencing?
Oh yes, I started with monsters. Those who would intrude and violate and make us feel insignificant and powerless.
Nicole A. Spigner is a Ph.D. student in Vanderbilt University’s English program. She received her M.A. and B.A. in English from University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include the intersections of 19th Century African American and Caribbean literature and classical Greek and Roman texts, depictions of conjure women in 19th and 20th Century African American and Caribbean Literature, as well as black feminist theory, New World syncretic religions, Vedic philosophy and African Diasporic folklore.